Los Angeles Lakers: Four questions surrounding the return of star Anthony Davis from injury
The Los Angeles Lakers will finally get some much-needed help, with all signs pointing to star forward Anthony Davis returning to the court for Tuesday’s game against the Brooklyn Nets.Davis has missed the past 17 games after spraining his left MCL in a Dec. 17 game against the Minnesota Timberwolves.The Lakers — who had gone through some turbulence before Davis’ injury — struggled to find any rhythm in his absence, going 23-24 under.500 on his return.Los Angeles, eighth in the Western Conference, looks like a tournament-caliber team for the second straight season, but is just two games away from the top six seeds that would put it in the NBA playoffs.Will Davis’ return make enough of an impact to clinch a playoff spot in the second half of the season?We will answer this question in the form of four pressing questions before he returns.Four questions surrounding the return of Lakers star Anthony Davis from injury How are the Lakers doing without Davis on the floor?The lakers are 13-14 when Davis plays this season and 10-10 when he doesn’t.That is…It doesn’t make much difference to someone who hasn’t been an eight-time All-Star.Surprisingly, when you look at the advanced on/off statistics, they tell you the same thing.The Lakers’ net rating with Davis on the court (-2.5) is actually worse than it is without him (-0.8).With Davis on the court, the team’s offensive rating dropped to 105.4, which would be the fourth-worst in the NBA, just ahead of the Orlando Magic, Detroit Pistons and Oklahoma City Thunder, the three worst teams in the league.His defensive performance improved the Lakers only slightly, with a defensive rating of 108.0 on the court and 110.4 off the court.Still, 2.4 points per 100 possessions is the difference in defensive efficiency between the top 10 and bottom 10 in the league.Of course, conventional wisdom tells you that the Lakers’ third superstar is definitely better on the court, and I wouldn’t disagree with that.But interestingly, the numbers tell a different story.How will Davis’ return affect the starting lineup?After Davis missed 17 games, coach Frank Vogel took a very experimental stab at the starting lineup to try to get the Lakers out of trouble.He used seven different starting lineups, three of them with lebron James at center.The Lakers had some success at the no. 5 spot in a 5-2 win when James was named the team’s starting center.Playing James at the no. 5 position gives the Lakers a chance to spread the floor and pick up the pace.But his biggest impact has been as a screener in pick-and-roll or pick-and-roll scenarios, causing damage short rolls when able to find his own shot or play for someone else.TSN’s Scott Lafferty detailed this point shortly after Davis was injured, and the Lakers have continued to use it in his absence.However, Vogel has been out of the starting lineup in five of James’ past five games.He put Dwight Howard back in the starting lineup, and it’s a safe bet that Davis will take Howard’s place when he returns.Howard has been playing well lately, which could change things, but vogel said earlier this month that he expects lebron to operate as a backup center in the minutes after Davis returns.”I think you’re going to see Carmelo play a lot at the five,” the Lakers coach said. “When Carmelo’s not [playing], we have a lineup that we’ve been playing with lebron, basically playing center.”Go back to January 11.”That’s where I think we’re going to land with this team in the second half of the season, and we’re seeing clear benefits right now, and we feel there will be more of Anthony coming back strengthened.”It will also be interesting to see how Davis’ return affects James’ recent tear, which James himself described as “one of the best offensive areas of my career.”In the 17 games Davis has missed, James has averaged 32.5 points, 9.3 rebounds and 5.8 assists, including 30 points in 13 games and 40 points in one.He looks like the 23-year-old kid who won the scoring title in 2008, and as you can see in the quote above, he’s not going to stop.You can highlight the idea that James, Davis and Russell Westbrook will all start — the other two players around them will change every night.Will Davis break out of his shooting slump?That may be the most important pressing issue in Davis’ return.Before his injury, Davis was having the worst jump-shooting season of his career, filling the paint with opposing teams against the Lakers (especially when he was on the court with Westbrook).Davis is shooting 52.1 percent from the field — one of the best in his career — but that’s because he’s shooting 64.3 percent inside.In terms of shooting from beyond the arc, Davis shot far less at 32.4 percent, including 17.9 percent from 3-point range, his worst in any season in which he averaged more than one three-pointer per game.That’s…Lots of red X’s.According to NBA statistics, Davis is shooting 17.6 percent on catch-and-shoot 3-pointers so far this season, nearly halving his shooting from the 34.4 percent he shot during the Lakers’ 2020 NBA Championship campaign.More worryingly, Davis also lacks a relaxed look.Davis shot 25.0 percent on 3-pointers that NBA statistics consider “open.”On 3-pointers considered “wide open” by NBA statistics, that number drops to a staggering 11.8 percent.Playing with elite passers like James and Westbrook, you get an easy look on the 3-point line trophy.Davis will have to start taking advantage of some of those opportunities to maximize his value on offense and make room for this Lakers team.How does Davis’ return affect the trade deadline?The Lakers have been hamstrung by their current salary-cap situation, but Davis’ return shouldn’t have much of an impact on how the team operates at the deadline.Westbrook’s whispers will still circulate, and so will rumors that players like Kendrick Nunn and Taron Horton Tucker will be hovering in trade talks along with future draft assets.Between Davis’ first game back and the Feb. 10 deadline, the Lakers will have nine games to see how the team works at full strength and determine how it can improve to make a playoff push.Obviously, changes — or multiple changes — are needed, but flexibility is limited, and it will be interesting to see what this team can do to try to win a title after lebron et al.